That’s Been Fifty Years Ago… 50 Years of the CDB Part 23: Steel Witness
1996’s ‘Steel Witness’ album was the second Christian music release from the EMI deal which included Christian label Sparrow Records.
Like 1994’s ‘The Door,’ this was another powerful message album for dad.
First up, I wanted to point out something about the cover art. I did the original concept art for the cover, but let me be more precise. Dad told me what he wanted, and I fumbled my way through Photoshop and a 3D modeling program in order to come up with a design that was along the lines of what he was looking for, but a professional graphic designer did the final album artwork.
I forgot to mention when I did my analysis of The Door’ that it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel or Bluegrass Gospel Album, and ‘Steel Witness’ was nominated as well.
Now to the music.
The album starts off in a darker tone. The Book of Revelation is a reoccurring theme throughout the album, and that starts with the first song, “It’s Happening Now.” The acoustic guitar intro lends to a sense of something bad approaching.
The song speaks of the return of Jesus as all the signs point to “It’s happening now.”
It warns that “we may be the raptured generation, rumors of war are in the air, nation is rising against nation, false messiahs are appearing everywhere.”
But even though hard times are ahead, He’s coming back again.
“New Pharisees” takes up the problems of hypocrisy, gossip and judgmental self-righteous people inside the Church.
Like the first-century Pharisees in Jerusalem, they criticize, “You need to pick up the Book and take another look”
They “Act so righteous and look so pious” But there’s a rock in your heart and a fire on your tongue”
But the final line takes ownership of their faults by lumping them in with his own when he says, “You’re a lot like me.”
We’re not perfect, we’re all flawed and sinners, but the song urges us to be better than the Pharisees, both old and new.
Next up is “Somebody Was Prayin’ For Me” featuring the legendary Fairfield Four. If you saw the music video, you will see that there are actually six members. I imagine they started out as a quartet and eventually added a couple more members, but they looked mighty spiffy in tuxedo jackets and bib overalls.
The song itself is a hopping Gospel number and if it doesn’t get your spirit moving, then I don’t know what will. It’s about a man who was on the wrong track and was “of the world” rather than just living in it. According to the song, his “life came unraveled,” but someone was praying for him and eventually he “ran into a brick wall and his name was Jesus” and “He reached out His merciful hand” to save him from the sinking sand he was standing on, before the prayers, he was “so far down, I had to reach up to touch the ground.”
It’s the epitome of uplifting.
The song won a Dove Award for Country Recorded Song of the Year, and deservedly so.
Payback Time is another Revelation-themed song. It paints a dark picture of the world to come and the approaching of “payback time,” meaning that the time is coming when the trumpets blast and soon Judgment day will be upon us.
The sheep will be gathered, eternity begins, the wedding of Christ to His bride and you want to be seated at the wedding table.
“He’s Not Here” is the latter part of the Easter story and features the Christ Church Choir – who also appeared on ‘The Door.’
It examines several of the disciples after Jesus’ execution and burial, Judas, Peter and John.
Then to the resurrection, as they hear that the tomb was empty.
“He’s not here, He is risen
He’s not among the dead”
“He has conquered death
Hell and the grave”
In the reoccurring theme of Jesus returning, the final verse urges the listener to question where they will be “When He makes His triumphant return”
It's a crucial question for all of us.
“Whose Side Are You On” is yet another Revelation-themed song, it starts talking about a world where reading the Bible must be done in hiding. He references the year 2001, and obviously he missed the date by a few decades, but regardless of the date, it is coming.
“The battle ain’t lost, He’s raising an army at the foot of the cross, with the weapon of prayer and the everlasting power of love.”
And we need to “put all of God’s armor on” and know whose side we are on, God’s or the devil’s.
Plenty to ponder.
Part of the song “Tribulation” are some of lines that I remember dad writing many decades before He recorded ‘Steel Witness.’
“I believe we are living in the days John wrote about
The End Times are upon us and of that there is no doubt
Get your mind out of the world and take your Bible off the shelf
Read the Book of Revelations for yourself.”
Dad wrote that line so many years before, he said Revelations instead of Revelation. I’m not sure why he left it that way, because he knew it was Revelation without the "s."
But it talks about the world being in bondage under Satan and the antichrist until God wipes away all tears and brings joy forever more.
“Jesus” is another uptempo rockin’ church praise song, and it features the Christ Church Choir.
It kind of reminds me of the arrangement of “The Old Landmark” from ‘The Blues Brothers,’ but it also borrows from a song called “The Roots Remain,” a spoken word piece which was on boxed set of the same name which goes through many styles of American music, one of which sounds very much like this one.
“Heart of My Heart” is a beautiful cry to our Lord from a man who had been lost in sin, but Jesus changed his life.
“Heart of my Heart, rock of my soul, You changed my life when You took control.
“Satan kept telling me that it was too late, I’d committed the unpardonable sin” which is nothing but lies from the pits of hell.
There is nothing too strong for Jesus, He is “Lord of all Lords, King of all Kings.”
It features Dale Krantz Rossington on vocals. Dale was the lead singer for the short-lived post-plane crash Lynyrd Skynyrd reboot band Rossington-Collins Band, and later married Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington.
The album ends with “A Day in the Life,” and it’s not The Beatles song. It’s about the End Times, the rapture and the coming of the antichrist who steps up to bring order to the chaos promising that he will be the one to bring peace to the Earth, even though he promises a mark on your hand and takes up residence in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem.
Then the armies of the world congregate at Megiddo – Armageddon in Greek, before Jesus comes down for the final victory over Satan and his armies.
There is a musical part in the song which is darkly reminiscent of the musical “Phantom of the Opera.”
So that’s “Steel Witness,” it’s another powerful sharing of the Gospel which dad was thrilled he was able to do. It was something that had been on his heart for quite a while before he was able to do the first of two Sparrow albums.
For the next soapbox, dad briefly returns to Sony for a couple of projects, one with a younger intended audience.
And we’ll talk about that next time.
Download or Stream 'Steel Witness' HERE
What do you think?
Let’s all make the day count!
Pray for our troops, our police, the Peace of Jerusalem and our nation.
God Bless America!
— Charlie Daniels, Jr.
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